Hey there! My name's Marco Plouffe or Splash if you feel artsy. In this tutorial, you'll learn about the workflow I used to create my newest lowpoly model called Mechanurse using 3ds Max, ZBrush, mental ray, Photoshop and Xnormal.
What you will see is a combination of many things I have learnt from experimentation, tutorials and from my teachers during my year at Campus Ubisoft (Cégep de Matane).
This was my last project before the end of school and my last chance to fill up my portfolio before the video-game companies' interviews. At that time, I didn't have much time to think about an original subject and concept, so I decided to focus on the technical aspect and therefore create a reasonably complex model with low polycount and low resolution maps. I aimed for a budget of 10 000 to 15 000 tris and ended up with approx 12100. Plus, I needed a mechanical piece and a female character, so I decided to mix both themes. Later, I saw my friend with a Manga nurse chick t-shirt and found it so cliché I had to use that idea! I was now ready to brainstorm the concept and start the modeling.
I took an old basemesh made from model sheets of an actual person to block the proportions. Fig.01 shows the basemesh. This basemesh is not the final mesh, it was only done to import into ZBrush and make the highres model of the anatomy. A really important thing when creating a basemesh for ZBrush is to have the faces almost the same size and smaller faces where you want more resolution: the smaller square will allow finer details. Another thing is to avoid triangular faces and, if possible, stars (vertices with five edges connected) since they will pinch and create artefacts when sculpting in ZBrush. If you feel comfortable with proportion, you might be better off starting with a way simpler basemesh (see Zack Petroc's tutorial). This way you can really easily avoid triangles and stars.
I didn't like the stance or the proportions of the basemesh, so I changed it in the first phase of the ZBrushing and added more curves (Fig.02).
Note: In the video game industry, riggers will probably ask you to keep the model as stiff as possible in its T-stance (like in Fig.01) since it's the easiest way to rig a model. But if you are doing it for yourself, you can take the liberty of putting the model in a more comfortable pose like I did - it's way nicer to work on a model that has a comfortable stance.
After that, I started sculpting the anatomy (Fig.03). I used many anatomy books and photo references because I feel both are useful: it is important to know where muscles are and how they look but you also need to know how the body will look when you add fat and skin over the muscles. It's better to use photo references of real people instead of other artist's models since they can often include mistakes with the anatomy... in other words: don't take mine!
I built the anatomy by making the most I could with the level of subdivision given. When I felt I couldn't define the shapes well enough with the current level of subdivision, I went one level above until I reached level five where I could really define the muscles. Finally, I split the mesh (using Polygroups and "grpsplit" in Layers) to get rid of the part that wasn't going to be showing on the model. I was then able to go a level higher (level six) without making ZBrush crash and work on some fine details like skin texture etc. This was mainly for fun and I didn't spend much time on it since the maps resolution I was going to use wouldn't be enough to capture the details. Keep in mind the goal was to be super low in budget with map resolutions and polycount. Sometimes during the process, I came back to the anatomy to fix some stuff on the body; this is why there is a big difference between level five and level six in Fig.03. I added eyeballs too, because she was getting freaky at that point!
Here is a little presentation I did where you can see the final anatomy with some skin texture done with some alphas and the Spray function of the standard brush (Fig.03a)